Amazon takes a bite out of Costco & Home Depot shares, time to buy?

Both Costco and Home Depot have been regarded by money managers as “Amazon proof” until recently. Historically, these two retailing stocks have traded at very high valuations compared to other retailers.

Last month, news that Amazon was buying Whole Foods sent grocery stocks reeling. Costco, along with Kroger, Supervalu, Target and Walmart all tumbled in value. Even some European grocers like Sainsbury and Tesco sank on the announcement of the takeover deal.

Last week, Amazon said it would sell Sear’s Kenmore brand appliances. Shares of Home Depot, along with Lowe’s, Best Buy and Whirlpool were slammed. The loss of value for these stocks was about $12.5 billion. Keep in mind, with the Sears deal, Amazon will now be selling a product line that is not available at Home Depot or Lowe’s stores.

“Analysts at Robert W. Baird said the selloff in Home Depot and Lowe’s was an overreaction. The nearly $7.5 billion market cap loss in Home Depot stock equals slightly more than the amount of its annual appliance sales. Lowe’s stock loss was a little more than 50 percent of its $7 billion in annual appliance sales.”

Buying premium value stocks like Costco and Home Depot when they fall is very difficult. Sometimes looking at their charts can indicate when the bleeding has stop and all the panicky investors have sold their shares.

Looking at the one year chart of Costco, you can see that buyers are coming in near the $150 price range. The 52 week low for Costco is around $142 so the downside risk is relatively small. This could be a buying opportunity if you believe that the Amazon threat has been blown out of portion.

Looking at the one year chart of Home Depot, there seems to be investor support at the $145 level but the stock could fall to the next support level which is around $135 per share. It could be too early to buy because it has only been a week since the Amazon / Sears news announcement. You could take a part position now and average down if the shares continue to fall or you could wait another couple of weeks to see if the $145 level holds.

What do you think? Are Costco and Home Depot still Amazon proof?

 

 

 

 

Share buyback binge is going strong, investors beware!

Is there anything wrong with this? Yes, it means that companies are spending more money on “financial engineering” than on capital spending. It certainly does indicate that companies are at a loss on how to improve their top line, which is what will ultimately improve the bottom line. It leads to frequent complaints by analysts about the “quality” of earnings.

It’s a very important point. Apple is part of an elite group I call “buyback monsters,” companies that have been aggressively buying back stock for years. Apple’s shares outstanding topped out in 2013 at roughly 6.6 billion shares. Since then it has been down every year and now stands at 5.2 billion.

That is a reduction of 21 percent in shares outstanding since 2013. What’s that mean? It means all other things being equal, the company’s earnings per share are 21 percent higher than they would have been had it not done the buybacks.

But that’s only since 2013 … there are companies that have been doing this much longer. IBM shares outstanding topped out at 2.3 billion way back in 1995, it’s been going down almost every year since then, and now stands at 939 million shares. Think about that. That’s a 60 percent reduction in shares outstanding in a little more than 20 years.

Same with Exxon Mobil, after the Mobil acquisition in 1999, shares outstanding topped out at just shy of 7 billion in 2000 and have been going almost steadily downhill since. There’s now 4.2 billion shares outstanding, a reduction of 40 percent since 2000.

Here are just a few more buyback monsters:

  • Northrup Grumman: 50 percent since 2003
  • Gap: 55 percent since 2005
  • Bed Bath & Beyond: 50 percent since 2005
  • McDonald’s: 36 percent since 2000
  • Microsoft: 30 percent since 2004
  • Intel: 30 percent since 2001
  • Cisco: 32 percent since 2001

Why are there buybacks at all? They were originally used to support the issuance of stock options. The options increased the share count outstanding, so to keep the countdown the company bought back shares. But as the opportunity for significant top-line growth waned, buybacks to reduce share counts became a separate strategy to prop up earnings growth.

What is my beef with buybacks? Part of management’s compensation packages include stock options. Buying back company shares ensures that their stock options don’t expire worthless.  It not only fools investors that the earnings are growing but it rewards poor management.

Take IBM for example, despite being one of the most aggressive buyback monsters on the Street, you can’t say IBM’s stock price has soared in the last decade. In 2014, the company eased off a bit on its buybacks, and the stock headed south. It headed south because IBM was beset by fundamental growth issues: Its revenues from its old line businesses were shrinking and there was not revenue from emerging  businesses (like Watson and artificial intelligence) replacing it.

The lesson: No amount of financial engineering like buying back shares can replace management’s inability to grow the business.

 

 

Opportunities for option traders on the takeover of Time Warner

Back in late October, I wrote that AT & T had reached an agreement in principle to buy Time Warner for about $85.4 billion, Time Warner shareholders would get a combination of cash and AT & T stock. The total purchase price would be around $107.50 and the whole process could take around a year to complete.

Click here to read “Looking for option trades on the Time Warner takeover by AT&T”

The stock price of Time Warner was trading at around $86.75 at that time which was way below the takeover price. I suggested two option trades with April expiry dates and one that didn’t expiry until Jan 2018. All three trades turned out profitable.

  1. Buy 300 shares of Time Warner at $86.75 and sell 3 April $90 call options for $3.00 each. This reduces the adjusted cost base to $83.75 and I am hoping that these call options will expire worthless.

Results: Time Warner stock was called away at $90.00 in April for a $6.25 profit or 7.46% in 6 months.

  1. Buy 100 shares of Time Warner at $86.75, sell 1 April $90.00 call option for $3.00 and 1 April $85.00 put option for $3.80 reducing the purchase price to $79.95 a share. ($86.73-$3.00-$3.80 = $79.95)

Results: Time Warner stock was called away at $90.00 in April and the put option expired worthless. Profit of $90.00 – $79.95 = $10.05 or 12.5%

  1. Buy 10 Jan $97.50 call options for $3.50 that expire in 2018. If the deal goes through, these options could be sold for $10 each.

Results: Time Warner stock closed at $99.18 on Friday, I still have 8 more months to take profits. I could sell the Jan $97.50 call options for $6.05 on Monday for a profit of $6.05 – $3.50 =$2.55 or 73%

Being a senior, I totally forgot about this post, I have to apologize for not providing an update sooner. However, I repeated option strategy number 2 by buying 500 shares of Time Warner at $97.50, selling 5 May 97.50 call options for $1.95 and 5 May 97.50 puts for $1.45 (which reduced my purchased price to $94.10) and made $3.40 or 3.6% in one month.

Unfortunately, the VIX which is the ticker symbol for the Chicago Board Option Exchange volatility index has been falling. It measures the market’s expectations of 30 day implied volatility. (Referred to as the fear index) A falling VIX means a reduced amount of fear and cheap option premiums.

Despise the lower possibility of profit, I repeated option strategy number 2 and bought 500 shares of Time Warner at $98.96, sold 5 June 30 100 call options for $1.00 and 5 June 98 put options for $1.00 reducing my overall cost to $96.96 per share. I could potentially make $3.04 if TWX is above $100 by June 30th or 3.14.%

A falling VIX tends to widen the bid / ask price spread on most options. It makes it harder to get your order filled. I had to change my limit order a couple of times during the day to get this Time Warner trade completed.

There is always a risk that this deal will not be approved by regulators. However the takeover price gap has narrow from $86.75 / $107.50 in October to $99.18 / 107.50 in June. A good sign that investors believe that this deal will go through.

Disclaimer: This post is for educational purposes only.

A few suggestions on how to invest a $300,000 inheritance

Last week’s post contained a real life Canadian couple’s financial dilemma on how to invest a surprised inheritance. I asked writers and readers of financial blogs to email me their suggestions. This couple is in their mid-fifties and are hoping to retire in 8 to 10 years. They are debt free, have poor paying jobs and only managed to save $55,000 for retirement. Unfortunately, my bullet point list of Canadian tax info wasn’t very clear.

Additional clarification of  the Canadian Tax system

Canadians have three choices for saving for retirement if they don’t have a company pension.

Registered Retirement Saving Plan (RRSP)

  • Contributions are limited to 18% of working income (max. $25,370 investment income not included)
  • Tax deductible, refund based on your tax rate (lowest 20%, highest is 53%)
  • Tax free compounding, withdrawals are 100% taxable at your personal tax rate (lowest 20%, highest is 53%)
  • Government requires you to make withdrawals at age 72
  • Not usually recommended for low income families

Tax free Savings Account (TFSA began in 2009), geared to low income families

  • Personal contributions are limited to $5,500 per year, not tax deductible
  • Unused contributions are carried forward indefinitely
  • Tax free compounding, withdrawals are not taxable
  • No restrictions on withdrawals, money can be taken out and put back in the following year.

Taxable investment account

  • Interest income, foreign interest and foreign dividends are 100% taxable at your current tax rate (lowest 20%, highest is 53%) Plus there is 15% foreign tax withheld. If personal your tax rate 30%, foreign dividends of $100 minus  $30 personal tax – $15 of foreign tax = $65
  • Canadian Dividends have an eligible tax credit that increases the after tax yield. In theory, a Canadian could earn $40,000 in dividends tax free if they had no other income.
  • Capital gains has the lowest tax rate because only 50% of the gain is included in income, so only $50 of a $100 gain would be included. High income earners (53% tax bracket) would only pay 26.5%  in income tax.

I only received two suggestions and didn’t receive any input from any Canadian bloggers or readers.  So, I asked a financial planner who works at one of my local bank branches to weight in.

From the United States, Bear with the Bull offered the following:

I am not sure I am most qualified to be a financial adviser and I really do not know Canadian tax laws. I would think they might want a mix of income, bond, possibly cash, and growth stocks.  For my 401, I have about a 60/40 split of stocks and income/bond allocation. So if they are looking for more cash / income, maybe they would be more comfortable with something more 40/60 instead. 

They probably would look to a portion to be cash or bond fund that could be used to maximize yearly retirement contributions and or have readily available should they need it.  Since the Canadian real-estate market is seemingly doing well, how about investing in some Canadian REITs?  It would have a short term growth opportunity and dividends as well.  ETF’s also seem to be the latest investing vehicle and generally have lower fees than mutual funds.

  • The 40% equities ($120,000) 50% Canada 40% U.S 10% Emerging markets
  • The 60% fix income ($180,000) Perhaps a 1/3 split.  $60,000 Bonds, $60,000 Reits, $60,000 Cash

Realize that this response and $5.00 will get you a good cup of Starbucks so take it for what it is worth.

From Belgian, Amber Tree Leaves offered the following:

Here is a potential solution, as I am not sure to fully understand the Canadian system, I will skip that part.

General comment: As they have not yet accumulated a lot of assets, it might be tough to retire in the next 8-10 years. It is reasonable to expect a severe correction in that period. As it seems that they have little investing experience, it might be better to go for an approach that generates cash from dividend stocks. The assumption here is that it generates higher yields than ETFs. 

  • allocation: 70 % stock and 20 % bonds and 10 % gold.
  • The 70% equities 20% in Canadian dividend stocks, 50% world wide in dividend paying stocks

The gold is there as a hedge against the really bad times. It should be managed in a way that it needs to be sold and converted into stock/bonds when the price rises a lot. Timing this is hard, it is not the goal to get the absolute top.

Bank Financial Planner

First of all, I believe that money has different weights or “gravity” depending on how you acquire it.  Inheritance money seems to have the most weight as often people feel they “owe” a higher degree of care of duty to it and are less likely to deal with it the way they would a lottery win or an insurance settlement.

Obviously, the first thing I would need to do is get a better understanding of their situation and their time horizon and risk tolerances.  Let’s assume they are comfortable with a balanced approach. I would recommend 60% equity/40% fixed income.  ($180,000 in equity and $120,000 in fixed income.)

I would recommend they start by contributing fully to TFSAs, which would account for $102,000 between the two of them.  In the TFSA, I would use a ladder of market linked GICs to give them diversification, security of capital and the potential for higher returns than offered by traditional GICs.  This allows them their only chance to earn interest without paying tax on every penny of it.  It also means there are no fees to pay on almost one third of their investments. 

For the non-registered account, I would recommend a core holding of a growth ETF portfolio ($100,000 with additional positions in our Canadian ($30,000), US ($15,000 and International ETF funds $25,000), with a portion in our US Dollar ETF $15,000) for additional diversification on currency. 

After the initial investment occurred, I would want to have an annual strategy to move the maximum TFSA contribution for each of the clients.  This would involve selling a position of the non-registered investments (unless there are additional savings available) and reinvesting in the same fund inside the TFSA to maintain the balance in the overall account.   This would allow the gradual transition into the TFSA accounts, helping with taxes and probate fees down the road.  A portion of capital gains (or losses) would be triggered each year, smoothing the tax impact on the clients.

I am not sure if this inheritance is big enough to bail out this couple’s retirement plan. A key element is understanding after tax returns when investing.